Are you going through an entertainment rut? We’ve put together a list of art documentaries you can add to your ‘watch’ list.
THIS IS A ROBBERY: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST ART HEIST
The 4-part docuseries, released on Netflix at the start of April 2021, follows the story of the most expensive art heist in history. In the early hours of the 18th March 1990, two thieves dressed in police uniform broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, USA and escaped with $500m in art including a Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet. The years following the heist involved dead-end leads suspects dying and detectives retiring. Stories of the robbery being connected to the IRA or local mobsters spread but in reality, any faint trail that would have led to the solving of the crime quickly ran cold. Three decades on, one of the biggest unsolved mysteries remains just that, unsolved. Despite a $5m reward, the works remain unrecovered and no arrests have ever been made.
Want to know about other famous art heists? Read our list of 4 top art heists of all time.
STRUGGLE: THE LIFE AND LOST ART OF SZUKALSKI
Released in 2018, this Netflix documentary tells the story of Polish artist Stanislaw Szukalski. The artist, who died in 1987, had created a complicated body of work over his lifetime, he invented his own language and he was a self-taught sculptor. He also lost all his artwork in a Nazi bombing raid.
The film is made up of a series of interviews with Szukalski and Glenn Bray back in the 1980s. Bray had stumbled upon some books of Szukalski and when doing his research on the artist, learnt that he lived nearby in California. The two became acquainted which led to the interviews. Bray soon came to the conclusion that Szukalski’s anonymous lifestyle affected his perception of himself.
The documentary, which was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and his father George DiCaprio, battles with the relationship between art and its creator and whether or not the two can be separated.
MADE YOU LOOK: A TRUE STORY ABOUT FAKE ART
Released in 2020 on Netflix, the documentary depicts the story of leading art dealers, collectors and gallery owners who became embroiled in one of the largest art fraud deals in history.
During the mid-90s to the early 2000s, director of New York’s Knoedler Gallery, Ann Freedman met with the softly spoken Glafira Rosales. Rosales lured Freedman in with a treasure trove of abstract expressionist masterpieces by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. They became associates and, without asking too many questions, Freedman snapped up the work.
But it wasn’t only Freedman who was fooled. Professional authenticators passed the art off as originals. But when Rosales was questioned of the provenance, her vague replies were believed. Afterall, provenances have been discounted throughout history. However, through investigation, the work was traced back to Queens, New York, where they were created by a Chinese maths professor, Pei-Shen Qian. The scandal eventually amounted to a $80 million con.
BLURRED LINES: INSIDE THE ART WORLD
The documentary features interviews with key players in the art market including, art dealers, collectors, big-name artists and gallerists. As well as statements from influential people and video recordings of famous masterpieces being auctioned off.
Blurred Lines, which was released in 2017 and is available to stream on Prime Video, explains how the art market works, people’s roles in the machine and what determines the price of a piece of art. The amount of information sourced and then layed out in a 1 hour and 25 minute motion picture is astounding.
BEYOND THE VISIBLE: HILMA AF KLINT
Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint had slipped through the cracks in art history until the release of Halina Dyrschka’s 2020 documentary.
During the documentary, viewers have a chance to hear from female art historians and writers. They acknowledge that women artists to the likes of Hilma Af Klint, don’t fit into the ‘genius artist’ narrative. However, as the documentary of af Klint’s life story and works unfolds, we discover that Klint played a crucial role in art, despite being excluded from the boy’s club.
Beyond the Visible makes an effort to rewrite art history and ensure Af Klint is acknowledged as a pioneer of 20th-century abstract art and reappraised as a master.
MARCEL DUCHAMP: THE ART OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name ‘Duchamp’, he’s the artist who created ‘Fountain’ in 1917 (we wrote about it in our article, ‘Artwork that Caused a Public Uproar’).
Duchamp was a significant figure in 20th Century art. He held an important role in the DADA movement, he was one of the founders of Société Anonyme in 1920 and he was also known for his female pseudonym Rrose Sélavy. Matthew Taylor’s The Art of the Possible, tells the full life story of Duchamp, including his early years, his experiments with Cubism and his creation of the readymade, which left the art world flabbergasted and ultimately changed the course of history.
CARLOS ALMARAZ: PLAYING WITH FIRE
Mexican-born American artist, Carlos Almaraz was a Chicano activist and visionary painter who was famed for his depictions of his home city, Los Angeles. His work has grown to become as recognised and iconic as those of Edward Ruscha and David Hockney.
Almaraz passed away from complications of AIDS when he was only 48 years old. However, he left behind a rich and intricate legacy. Directed by Elsa Flores Almaraz and Richard Montoya, Playing with Fire explains how Almaraz’s work captured the cityscape of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s.
Playing with Fire was released on 5th October 2019, coinciding with what would have been Almaraz’s 79th birthday, and is available to stream on Netflix.